TORONTO — It's been 11 years since Moncef (Buddy) Askri walked away from boxing, leaving a 10-0-0 record in his trail.
Now 37, the Halifax middleweight is finally returning to the ring.
And whatever happens Saturday night on the undercard of the Samuel Vargas-Adrian Gabriel Pereiro main event at Toronto's Coca-Cola (formerly Ricoh) Coliseum, it can be argued Askri is already a winner again.
Askri stepped away from the sport for a variety of reasons. He began to have hand problems, his lifestyle started to go south and then his father passed away.
He kept saying to himself he would get back training next month.
"Next month turned into six months. And then it turned into a year. And then years."
His past included run-ins with the law.
"Growing up I was in and out of trouble a lot. My biggest problem was alcohol. Everybody kind of has something. Mine was alcohol," he said. "I was in and out of juvenile hall a little bit growing up. Went through some things, got into a little bit of trouble here and there."
He says he looks back these days and shakes his head.
Time has changed Askri's view on a lot of things. Take the Che Guevara tattoo on his right forearm.
"A lot of things, the way he thought, intrigued me," Askri said of the Argentina-born revolutionary. "But at the same time now as I got older, I think I see a lot of it differently, I see his intentions were good but he kind of turned into a bit of psychopath and he did a lot of crazy things. He was just a wild mess at the end of his life."
There have been other problems to face. Askri says he suffered from "pretty deep depression" during his time away from the ring and put on a lot of weight. In April he was 205 pounds.
Today he weighs a lean 160. There are flecks of grey in his short-cropped hair and beard, but he looks the part. Judging from the way he made the heavy bag move during a training session at the Hardknocks Boxing Club, his left hook is not something you want to meet.
"I feel good, I feel healthy," he said. "My mind's a lot clearer ... I'm here doing it because I actually enjoy it."
He has spent the last three months training twice a day, crediting a visit by his mother for helping turn his life around. At the time he was in a dark place and didn't know how to get out of it.
"I was miserable. And she kind of gave me a pep talk, because I wasn't really talking to anybody any more," he said.
"She just hugged me and then she left," he recalled. "And the next day, I got up early, made breakfast and went for a run. I just started from there."
The first two or three weeks were "hell." Some days he had to roll out of bed because he was so sore.
"But then I started feeling good about myself."
Askri was often on the move during his years away from boxing. He spent six years in Colombia, after meeting a woman there on his travels. He has also lived in Tunisia with his grandparents, a stint that included time in the Tunisian army.
He spent the last year in Halifax to be close to his family and to help with the family property management business. These days he's fluent in Spanish and awaiting the arrival of his Colombian girlfriend.
Soccer was Askri's first game growing up, But his godfather, the late Buddy Daye, was a former Canadian super-featherweight champion. He regaled Askri with stories about Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and Don King and took Askri to the gym when he was 10.
Askri went on to make the Canadian national team as a teenager. He made his pro debut in June 2005 at the age of 23. His last fight was a TKO win over American Jimmy (The Dream) LeBlanc in December 2007.
Asked if he wonders what might have, Askri takes the philosophical route.
"I think everything happens for a reason. If it was meant to happen, it would have been. Maybe it still is. I don't know. I'm going to find out Saturday."
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press